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School Days Revisited: President's Physical Fitness Test Now Available for Adults

By L.K. Regan

There's really nothing to bring the specter of grammar school crashing back like an unexpected mention of the President's Physical Fitness Test. Oops! Sorry! Everyone under the age of about 50 who went to primary school in the U.S. treasures not-so-fond memories of the annual ritual of using P.E. class for a single day of actual running, jumping, pushing-up, and other athletic activities. The test was created in 1956 by President Eisenhower, who wanted American children to keep up with European levels of fitness. Ever since, it has offered a simple method for identifying nerds and isolating them from the general population.

Well, for those who treasure fond memories of that sweaty and alienating annual event, the President's Council on Physical Fitness announced last week a new program to offer the traditional test to adults—many of whom have evidently been clamoring for another dose of high school humiliation. For those looking for a return to their youth, the Council is offering an adult physical fitness test, very closely akin to the one you still have nightmares about. The adult test utilizes the same measurements as the student version: sit-ups, shuttle runs, the one-mile run (or brisk walk for the less-active), push-ups, and the dreaded sit-and-reach, which involves sitting with legs straight and feet pressed against a box designed by medieval torturers. By leaning forward while keeping the knees straight, the victim—er, participant—can test hip and back flexibility. Warning: Men with tight hamstrings will find this very challenging.

Still, certain allowances have been made for age: The traditional pull-ups have yielded to the more manageable push-up, and there is no expectation of full sit-ups—half sit-ups will do fine. All told, these activities test for aerobic strength (shuttle runs, mile run), strength (push-ups and sit-ups), and flexibility (sit-and-reach). The test is both comprehensive and compact.

Should you choose to participate, tax cuts will regrettably prevent the President's Council from sending a gigantic woman in grey sweatpants with a whistle and a clipboard to record your results. But you can keep track for yourself, and enter your results on the Council's web site. The site will also help you calculate your BMI (Body Mass Index), to measure yourself against other people in your age group. It will also calculate your percentile of fitness and deliver the good (we hope) news.

All joking aside, though you may not have your President's Physical Fitness Challenge results from grade school to compare against, taking the test now offers an opportunity to take a set of baseline measurements of your fitness level and body statistics. Too often fitness regimens suffer from a lack of metrics against which to compare oneself; using the President's Physical Fitness Challenge to take stock is a free way to motivate for the next fitness challenge.

And besides, you know everyone else from high school is a couch potato now. High time to take a victory lap.